Trying in “Small Ways”: Ecostewardship at Highlawn Presbyterian

This peaceful garden is enclosed within Kanawha United Presbyterian's church building.

I asked Ann Schurman, a member of Highlawn Presbyterian Church in Huntington, WV, to tell me about what her church does to be a good steward of creation. She replied, “I feel like we try in small ways around here. Hmm. You might have to strike small.”

Recycling is big at the church. “That was our first … beginning effort,” reports Schurman. The church has encouraged the congregation to bring in soda cans for over 20 years. Money made from the recycled cans goes to the youth who have started designating the money for Heiffer International, an organization providing livestock as “a sustainable source of food and income,” says their website. Schurman says the money “can average from $9-10 to $2-3” weekly.

In recent years they have added plastics and paper. They also have a container for glass, although Huntington does not currently have a location to recycle glass. Schurman said she is “trying to solve the glass problem.” Volunteers from the congregation take the recycling to the various centers, Schurman being one of those faithful servants.

Included in their “on-going” missions, the church has a bin in their recycling area for cell phones and magazines. The magazines are transported to the veterans home and the cell phones go to the local shelter for victims of domestic violence, since the phones can call 911 without a plan.

As a general rule, the church enjoys repurposing. Schurman comments that there is “a lot of that mentality around here.” When creating a serene garden space in their enclosed courtyard, many of the bushes removed were transplanted around the outside of the building.

The church also enjoys bringing in people outside of the congregation to give them fresh perspectives and encouragement on different issues, including environmental ones. On June 27, 2010, Robin Blakeman, an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and ordained Presbyterian minister delivered the sermon, which had references to the recent oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Schurman noted, “it’s always nice to have somebody come in … always helps to have the external voice coming in.”

Last year the church started gardening and composting. Their garden provided fresh tomatoes and squash for their monthly trip to deliver a meal to the Huntington City Mission, a non-denominational, faith-based mission that feeds poor and homeless persons, among other projects. This year “time and people’s availability” kept the garden from getting off the ground. However, the church still encourages congregants to bring fresh produce from their gardens for the meals they deliver to the mission. Schurman mentioned one gentleman provided all their lettuce for a recent trip.

The church also enjoys using their van for carpooling to different church events. “If a member is going to have a small group study at her home … we’ll use the church van,” says Schurman. Not only do individuals save gas money, but also the earth benefits from less pollution and parking is much less of a hassle. While at the group study, participants are likely to enjoy fairly traded products as a large number of congregants report purchasing the wares.

“You might have to strike small,” said Schurman. You will have to judge whether or not to strike that word. Regardless, all actions towards stewarding creation make a difference, small or not. Highlawn Presbyterian Church is taking steps and often times it is the steps that count, not the size.

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